(Roseau River Chief Terrance Nelson. APTN/Photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The U.S. should pay closer attention to the deteriorating relationship between First Nations and Ottawa or risk being “blindsided” by an Egypt-like crisis in Canada, a Manitoba chief said in a letter sent to the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Roseau River Chief Terrence Nelson said in the letter sent Wednesday that a “potential crisis” was brewing in Canada over the federal government’s continued refusal to allow First Nations to benefit from the country’s oil riches and pipelines.
“In Canada, Indigenous people’s rights are being ignored and it is only a matter of time before a crisis arising out of economic hardship will occur as it has in Egypt,” wrote Nelson in the letter to U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson. “Americans looking north should not ignore the human rights issues in Canada.”
It’s unclear how seriously the U.S. embassy is taking Nelson’s warning. A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy said she couldn’t immediately comment on the letter because a snowstorm in Ottawa had prompted most embassy staff to go home early. Stacy White, a press officer, said the embassy would, however, consider whether to respond.
Nelson met with embassy officials in late December during the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs’ assembly in Gatineau, Que., where he raised some of his concerns.
The AFN passed a resolution calling for the organization to find a way to get First Nations leaders before the U.S. Congress to testify about the situation in Canada.
Nelson received 10 per cent of the vote when he ran for national chief of the AFN in 2009.
In the letter, Nelson raises concerns about the Enbridge oil pipeline depot in Gretna, Man. The depot is part of the world’s largest petroleum pipeline system carrying Alberta oil into the U.S., according to Enbridge’s website.
“Gretna is in our traditional lands and pipelines are still a major issue for us,” wrote Nelson. “If there is any lesson from Egypt, it is better to be well informed rather than blindsided by events as they unfold.”
Gretna is about 124 kilometres south of Winnipeg, near the Manitoba-North Dakota border.
Copies of the letter were also sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, AFN national Chief Shawn Atleo, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer, Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan and Jefferson Keel, chairman of the National Congress of American Indians. It also went out to various media outlets.
Nelson also asked the U.S. embassy for help in arranging for First Nations leaders to appear before the U.S. Congress.